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Asphalt Plant Divides Commission

Neighbors complain of permit violations in a community that is now residential.

It wasn’t on the docket last Thursday night. But, it quickly became a flash point at Alexandria Planning Commission’s May meeting and is expected to draw a sizable crowd to a community meeting Monday night at Beatley Central Library.

The topic of concern, particularly to the residents of Cameron Station and the West End, is an application by Virginia Paving Company to amend their present Special Use Permit allowing them to operate their asphalt plant at 5601 Courtney Avenue 24/7. The present SUP, issued in 1960, limits operations to daylight hours weekdays and Saturdays. There is to be no activity on Sundays and holidays.

Prior to the commencement of Thursday night’s meeting, Planning Commissioner Vice Chairman John Komoroske, acting in the absence of Chairman Eric Wagner, announced that Commissioner Donna Fossum had a special topic for discussion. She then requested that the subject of the Virginia Paving SUP application not be docketed at any future meeting “until we get more responses and information” and the community is better informed of the implications.

“Are you suggesting that we not docket anything unless we get a report that an applicant is not in violation? Wouldn’t it be better to go ahead with the hearing and make it conform?” asked Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn Jr. “This would set a whole new precedent,” he said.

“There is a lot of data to come in from other sources. I don’t know if we’d be armed with enough information to make a good decision,” said Commissioner Jesse Jennings.

“We received the application from Virginia Paving in May 2005. They want the restrictions lifted because many paving projects are done at night when there is less traffic,” said Richard Josephson, deputy director, Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning.

“We have been working with the residents to hire a third party independent consultant to conduct an environmental study. It was going to be docketed earlier this year but we did not have enough information at that time,” Josephson explained.

THE CONTROVERSY is based on Virginia Paving Company’s filing of an application to change its SUP to allow the company to operate around-the-clock seven days a week. The plant is located just west of Tucker Elementary School, Boothe Park and Cameron Station. Unlike 1960, when the original SUP was issued, the area is now heavily residential.

Their request to change the conditions of the SUP could appear on the June 6 Planning Commission docket and the June 17 City Council agenda. Residents of Cameron Station and the West End maintain they have not had sufficient input on the application and that Virginia Paving has not given them sufficient information.

They also maintain, as was pointed out by Fossum during the Planning Commission meeting, there are “severe environmental problems with the plant’s operations.” She and other compare the area quality conditions to those produced by Mirant’s Potomac River Generating Station in North Old Town.

According to a history of the company prepared by the Cameron Station Civic Association, Virginia Paving purchased the plant in 2001 and “has publicly admitted being in violation of its SUP since then by working at night.” The Association also maintains, Virginia Paving “has violated EPA (U.S.Environmental Protection Agency) Clean Water Act regulations and that it had 22 violations relating to, among other things, water discharge, the fire code and dumping of waste.”

In its background report the Association states, “Studies by EPA, US Health Dept. and others have shown that harmful carcinogenic toxins are released into the air and water not only when asphalt is produced, but also when it is loaded onto trucks, moved around the plant, stored in piles and hauled from the plant.”

In a May 1 memo to Mayor William D. Euille, City Manager James Hartmann, as well as all members City Council and Planning Commission, Joseph Bennett, vice president, Cameron Station Civic

Association, stated, “For some reason, unknown to me, City Staff is trying to railroad this issue through the process in order to reach the Planning Commission and City Council hearings in June.”

He insists that more than one “facilitated” community meeting is necessary “because of intense and broad interest of individuals and groups throughout the City.” That one meeting is now scheduled for May 15 at Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke St., beginning at 7 p.m.

Bennett further points out that “As of May 6, there will have been three community meetings regarding a playground in Brenman Park, two of these on the weekend, when a larger, broader cross section of the community attends. Now we have the Staff (Planning& Zoning), with its heels dug in, insisting that there is need for only one meeting City-wide on Virginia Paving, that one held on a week night.”

According to the Association there are “five important policy considerations at stake.” They ask the question, “Should the City:

1.Reward those who blatantly violate their SUP by approving amendments to them that have the effect of making their violations legal?

2.Allow SUP violations to continue and not be fully enforced? 3.Allow intensification of industrial uses in areas that are now heavily residential, educational and recreational?

4. Allow plants to operate while they continue to violate health and safety regulations?

5. Impede redevelopment in the West End by allowing intensification of industrial uses that contribute to air and water pollution?”

These and other questions are expected to be the primary focus of Monday night’s community meeting.